Highly Technical Explication of a Simple Surprise About Surprise

September 23rd, 2017

Three researchers put into words their simple surprise about surprise. They published a study that goes into considerable detail. It has to do with the facial appearance of people who are surprised by something.

Here, for context, is a random selection of photos turned up by a google search for the phrase “surprised faces”:

The study is: “The Cognitive-Evolutionary Model of Surprise: A Review of the Evidence,” Rainer Reisenzein [pictured here], Gernot Horstmann, and Achim Schützwohl, Topics in Cognitive Science, epub 2017.

The authors, at the University of Greifswald, the University of Bielefeld, and Brunel University London, explicate their finding.

If you want to consider some of the detail that they (the researchers) consider you (the reader) should consider, here is the researchers’ 140-word partial summary of what they found surprising. You might enjoy reading it aloud to a friend:

“The facial expression of surprise postulated by evolutionary emotion psychologists has been found to occur rarely in surprise, for as yet unknown reasons. A physiological orienting response marked by skin conductance increase, heart rate deceleration, and pupil dilation has been observed to occur regularly in the standard version of the repetition-change paradigm of surprise induction, but the specificity of these reactions as indicators of surprise is controversial. There is indirect evidence for the assumption that the feeling of surprise consists of the direct awareness of the schema-discrepancy signal, but this feeling, or at least the self-report of surprise, is also influenced by experienced interference. In contrast, facial feedback probably does contribute substantially to the feeling of surprise and the evidence for the hypothesis that surprise is affected by the difficulty of explaining an unexpected event is, in our view, inconclusive.”

BONUS (unrelated): The city of Surprise, Arizona.

BONUS (related to that unrelated bonus): Trash and recycling in the city of Surprise

Some news video looks at the 2017 Ig Nobel Prize ceremony

September 22nd, 2017

Here are some video news reports about the 27th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize ceremony. (For lots more press accounts, dip into our Press Clips page.)

El Pais [Spain]

Mirror Weekly [Taiwan]:


NHK [Japan]:


VTC14 [Vietnam]:

RTO [The Netherlands]:

France Inter:

Canal+ [France]

Stiripesurse [Romania]:

United News International:

CNews [France]:

Le1945 [France]:

Attracting birds – with a ‘Songbird Magnet’

September 21st, 2017

Want to attract birds? Specifically, Purple Martins or Eastern Bluebirds, Baltimore Orioles, House Wrens, House Finches, American Goldfinches, & Indigo Buntings etc etc. Then you could try the Bird-X Songbird Magnet.

“As bird lovers, it only makes sense with the science & resources we have available, to offer an electronic songbird attractant.”

– say the manufacturers. As a further refinement, if you’re keen on all the birds listed above, but just can’t abide woodpeckers, you could also invest in the Bird-X Woodpecker PRO

“Naturally recorded woodpecker distress calls & predator cries confuse, frighten, & disorient woodpeckers, forcing them to seek calmer space. “

BONUS: A streaming radio service of birdsong (Note: may include woodpeckers)

Head-Shaking Research — Ejecting Water From the Ear Canals

September 19th, 2017

Ejecting water from a person’s ear canals is potentially thrilling, for fluid dynamicists and perhaps for the person. New research on the how and why will be presented at a meeting in November:

Acceleration induced water removal from ear canals,” Hosung Kang, Katelee Averett, and Sunghwan Jung, paper (Abstract D5.00007) to be presented at the 70th Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Fluid Dynamics, November 19–21, 2017; Denver, Colorado. The researchers, at Virginia Tech, report:

“Children and adults commonly experience having water trapped in the ear canals after swimming. To remove the water, individuals will shake their head sideways. Since a child’s ear canal has a smaller diameter, it requires more acceleration of the head to remove the trapped water.

In this study, we theoretically and experimentally investigated the acceleration required to break the surface meniscus of the water in artificial ear canals and hydrophobic-coated glass tubes. In experiments, ear canal models were 3D-printed from a CT-scanned human head. Also, glass tubes were coated with silane to match the hydrophobicity in ear canals. Then, using a linear stage, we measured the acceleration values required to forcefully eject the water from the artificial ear canals and glass tubes.”

The lab has also done research on how dogs drink, how cats drink, how diving birds enter the water, how raindrops hit tree leaves, what happens when wet hands clap, and other not-at-all-simple simple-seeming questions.

(Thanks to Nicole Sharp for bringing this to our attention.)

The aerodynamics of cheetahs’ tails (recent study)

September 18th, 2017

“During high-speed pursuit of prey, the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) has been observed to swing its tail while manoeuvring (e.g. turning or braking) but the effect of these complex motions is not well understood.”

Prompting, perhaps, the question ‘what is a cheetah’s tail actually for?’

A joint US / South African study (2016) has made made steps towards answers. A set of experiments, in which tails were aerodynamically tested at various airspeeds and inclinations, in a wind tunnel, yielded results :

“[…] our first order, quasi-steady state results clearly support the hypothesis that aerodynamic effects of the cheetah’s long, furry tail contribute to the angular impulse that can be applied to the body, especially at higher speeds. Both inertial and aerodynamic effects must therefore be considered in modelling the use of the cheetah tail for manoeuvring tasks. Our results further support the observations that the cheetah tail can be used as a ‘rudder’ to contribute to fast change of heading, and as a ‘stabiliser’ during rapid acceleration and turning.”

See: Quasi-steady state aerodynamics of the cheetah tail in Biology Open (2016) 5, 1072-1076


● The image shows the morphometric tail rig used to measure aerodynamic coefficient at varying angles of inclination and airspeed.

● The authors thank the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre for providing the tails.

● The authors inform that the use of the cheetah tails complied with the University of Cape Town Science Faculty Ethics policy.